Siesta Seen

Creating more Village parking spaces still a work in progress; Lido Renourishment Project to get a new manager; February Craft Fair comments lead to SKVA parking discussion; Sheriff’s Office ready for Spring Break; and Stickney Point bridge lane closures planned on March 11

Mark Smith and Roz Hyman prepare for the start of the SKVA meeting on March 1. Rachel Hackney photo
Mark Smith and Roz Hyman prepare for the start of the SKVA meeting on March 1. Rachel Hackney photo

Although Siesta Key Village property owners pushed back as expected on a Sarasota County proposal for them to pay about $100,000 to create new parking spaces out of right of way, Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) Vice President Mark Smith is not giving up hope.

That was the message he delivered during the SKVA’s regular meeting on March 1.

“How do I put this,” he began during his Governmental Affairs report. Several ideas about increasing the Village’s parking capacity have “run into various obstacles, and one of them is … how to pay for it,” he said.

Since the SKVA’s Feb. 2 meeting, he continued, he had met with some of the major Village property owners to determine whether they would be willing to cover the estimated $100,000 expense of a parking study, and, ultimately, the addition of just 35 new spaces. “Quite bluntly,” Smith said, “the answer came back, ‘No.’”

He added that their feeling was, “Siesta Key contributes a great deal to the county coffers,” and the county has a $1 billion budget this fiscal year.

“So I’m continuing to meet with the county to find a source of money,” Smith told the 14 people present.

He also has had some discussions with County Commission Chair Al Maio, who represents Siesta Key as part of Maio’s District 4 territory, Smith noted. Maio and county staff members “have been very polite,” Smith added. “We’ll continue to work on it and see if we can get this first piece [of the parking plan] in place.”

The proposal Smith worked on for more than a year would carve out about 300 more spaces, he told The Sarasota News Leader in January. However, much of the area that would be utilized belongs to private property owners, who would have to agree to open it up to the general public.

Lido Renourishment Project news

Peter van Roekens. File photo
Peter van Roekens. File photo

During the SKVA meeting this week, Peter van Roekens, chair of the board of Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), reported that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) staff member who has been heading up the work on the permit application for the Lido Beach Renourishment Project has left the state agency.

Chiu Cheng’s last day was Feb. 29.

“I don’t expect that will mean anything in terms of what [the department’s policies are at all,” he added.

As of The Sarasota News Leader’s deadline this week, an FDEP spokeswoman had not provided requested information about the person who will be replacing Cheng.

“The big thing,” van Roekens continued, is that the U.S. Coast Guard has pulled the channel markers out of New Pass. Apparently, it was unaware that dredging is planned in the pass, he added. “But the dredge is not going to solve the problem in New Pass at all,” van Roekens pointed out. “Within a year [after it is dredged], it’s shallowed out again.”

He recently spoke with someone, he noted, who had told him that not enough sand is removed during the dredges to keep the end of the channel open for any length of time.

Perhaps New Pass could be a sand source for the renourishment of Lido Beach, he said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the City of Sarasota applied in March 2015 for the necessary state permit to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key Beach. That application is still under review, with FDEP staff awaiting a response from the USACE on the state’s second Request for Additional Information.

A successful Craft Fair

Kay Kouvatsos. File photo
Kay Kouvatsos. File photo

At the outset of the March 1 SKVA meeting, discussion ensued about the Craft Fair held Feb. 27-28, with some consensus, it seemed, that things went very well.

“I saw lots of bags [but] I don’t know what the vendors think,” said Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café.

“I thought it was smaller,” Treasurer Roz Hyman added, referring to the number of vendors. However, she noted, “it looked like a bigger crowd, but I’m not sure … I did think there were many fewer vendors.”

Kouvatsos pointed out that a lot of people were in the Village.

Then Glen Cappetta of Sun Ride Pedicabs remarked, “Ridership was down [for his employees],” adding that people were able to find enough parking spaces, especially at Siesta Public Beach. “A lot of people used that lot,” he added. Then they walked or biked to the Village.

Lt. Debra Kaspar of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office told the members present that she had not been able to get a count before the meeting of the number of parking citations deputies issued during the fair. (She did not have the number by the News Leader’s deadline, but she promised to make it available when she receives it.)

“Can I make a guess?” Siesta Key Association (SKA) President Michael Shay interjected. The SKA has fought for residents on Avenida de Mayo, who went through hearings before the county’s Traffic Advisory Council and then the County Commission to get signs posted to make it illegal to park on certain portions of their street. During an SKVA meeting earlier this year, Shay also warned that vendors no longer could legally park their trailers in the Municipal Lot in the Village.

Kouvatsos told him she knew from Deputy Chris McGregor that deputies did ticket owners of trailers in the Municipal Lot.

“I know they responded to Avenida de Mayo,” Kaspar added, but she was unsure whether tickets were written to people who parked on that street.

“People aren’t going to come [to Village events] if [deputies are] over-zealous,” Kouvatsos pointed out.

SKA President Michael Shay. File photo
SKA President Michael Shay. File photo

“No Parking” signs mean just that, Shay replied: no parking.

“I’m talking side-street parking,” she told him.

He was referring to Avenida de Mayo, he responded. “There was parking on the street in no-parking zones [during the fair]. In my book, it’s a no-brainer. It says, ‘No Parking.’ You park there, you get a ticket. End of discussion.”

Kaspar told him that after she received the count of citations, they could talk about the matter.

Then Mark Smith noted that a trailer was parked all day on Calle Minorga, with cones around it. “They moved it at night,” he said, adding that he presumed it belonged to a vendor. “You’re allowed to park in the right of way,” he continued, but he was not certain trailers could be left in a right of way. “It was a good size,” he added of the trailer.

Perhaps a more curious situation, he indicated, involved the vendor who parked in the lot at Smith’s office. “He had the windshield cover … and he had a ‘Crafts Festival’ [parking] permit in the windshield.”

Smith joked that the latter “must be like a universal parking permit.”

“Was it laminated?” Shay asked.

“I don’t know,” Smith replied.

The person never asked him about leaving the vehicle in the lot, Smith also indicated.

Kouvatsos then asked whether the SKVA could move the Craft Fair back to the weekend before Valentine’s Day.

Hyman responded that she thought the reason it was held late in February this year was because of a scheduling conflict on the part of the organizer, Howard Alan Events & American Craft Endeavors.

Hyman suggested Kouvatsos speak to Russell Matthes, an SKVA board member and co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck restaurants, who was absent from the March 1 meeting. Matthes is the organization’s liaison with Howard Alan.

Secretary Helene Hyland said she thought one reason the event was moved to later in February was because of concern that the crowd would be smaller on Super Bowl Sunday.

Kouvatsos responded that the game does not start until after 6 p.m., so she saw no conflict with the fair.

Hyland disagreed, based on what she has heard.

Still, she and Kouvatsos concurred on the fact that people could visit the Craft Fair and get home in plenty of time to catch the start of the game.

Spring Break on the Key

Lt. Debra Kaspar. File photo
Lt. Debra Kaspar. File photo

During the SKVA meeting this week, Lt. Debra Kaspar of the Sheriff’s Office reminded everyone that the department is beginning its annual Spring Break operation, which means more officers on the Key to handle the extra people and try to prevent problems. (See the related story in this issue.)

This year, she said, additional deputies will be patrolling between 3 p.m. and 3 a.m., and officers of the Mounted Patrol will be present between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Further, Kaspar continued, the department will have deputies out on ATVs. She noted that the department also has purchased a new six-seat vehicle for use primarily when parents are seeking lost children, children are trying to find their parents and deputies are transporting arrestees.

As for the beach crowds: The previous day, Kaspar noted, the beach parking lots were not full until 11 a.m. The recent cooler mornings seemed to have delayed the arrival of visitors, but people generally have been staying longer into the afternoons, she added. “We’re off to a quiet start [of Spring Break].”

Furthermore, public service aides will be working on the Key to check on problematic parking areas and issue citations, she pointed out. “Hopefully, that will be more [of a] preventive [measure] this year than in years past,” she said.

Speaking of the beach …

Visitors were arriving slowly at Siesta Beach the last few days, given the cooler mornings. Rachel Hackney photo
Visitors arrived more slowly at Siesta Beach the past few days, given the cooler mornings. Rachel Hackney photo

In response to a News Leader request, county spokesman Jason Bartolone reported that about 225 people completed the walking tour county staff provided during the Grand Opening of the Siesta Beach Park renovations on Feb. 20.

County Commission Chair Al Maio estimated the crowd size at 1,000, Bartolone noted.

During the March 1 SKVA meeting, Ann Frescura, the new executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, reported that member businesses donated “such a wonderful variety of prizes” for the Chamber staff to give away at the booth it manned during the event.

“At times, we had 40-plus people in line,” she added, with people eager to participate in a dice game to win prizes.

“All went well,” she summed up the day’s activities for the Chamber.

Traffic warning

Barrels at the intersection of Midnight Pass Road and Stickney Point Road over the past months have been a sign of repair work on the bridge. File photo
Barrels at the intersection of Midnight Pass Road and Stickney Point Road over the past months have been a sign of repair work on the bridge. File photo

The Florida Department of Transportation announced (FDOT) this week that workers will begin functional testing of the Stickney Point Bridge repairs at 10 a.m. on Friday, March 11. Originally, the work was set for March 4, an FDOT news release noted. “The testing could last up to eight hours,” the release says.

During the process, intermittent bridge openings will be necessary, as the workers check out newly installed bridge equipment, the release points out. Motorists should expect openings and closings throughout the day, the release says, adding, “Please exercise caution and prepare for stops.”